Jerica Richardson’s family left New Orleans two days before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.
Adrift in Georgia, the family lived in hotels or with friends off money from the Red Cross. Eventually, Richardson’s mother was hired by a company with ties to her former employer.
“They adopted our family,” Richardson said in a recent interview. “They committed to $1,000 of rent for the first six months, in addition to her salary, so that we could get re-acclimated into the community.”
That experience, she said, will shape her approach as the new Cobb County commissioner representing District 2, which includes parts of east Cobb, Vinings and Smyrna.
“For those that were … uncertain about the change, and were a little bit fearful about all the new people — it was when (locals) were able to connect that we truly became a part of the community,” she said. “And that's how I look at all of our challenges: that when people come together, that is how you can overcome them. It's not by being uncertain or fearful, but it's about expressing love and hope.”
Richardson bested Republican Fitz Johnson by a mere 1,000 votes out of a total of 106,000 cast. She will succeed outgoing Commissioner Bob Ott, a Republican, who has held the seat for the past 12 years. Her victory in the longtime Republican stronghold flipped the county’s governing board, which hasn’t been majority Democrat in decades.
Richardson’s family settled in east Cobb. Although her brothers graduated from Walton High, she attended North Springs High School in Sandy Springs for its magnet programs, studying opera, drawing and painting, among other things.
("I didn't really continue it too much here, except in private settings," she said of opera. "I'll still sing for weddings or the national anthem or, for just private events, I may do some opera appearances.")
Despite her artistic leanings, Richardson enrolled in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s biology program, thinking she might become a neurosurgeon, psychologist, or some combination of the two. She eventually changed majors after someone told her there were only two options for biology students: medical school or becoming a teacher.
“I really like options,” she said with a laugh.
She graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering, a field she credits with teaching her an entirely new way of thinking.
“It's a method of breaking things down into inputs and outputs, and understanding … the complexity that impacts those inputs,” she said. “Engineering has become a part of who I am and how I process and how I think about things. Whether it be, you know, coming to county operations, or if it's at my day job.”
Richardson is a project manager at credit reporting agency Equifax, where she helps the company meet its obligations under a court settlement resulting from a 2017 data breach.
It’s a high-stakes job to which Richardson will be adding the myriad responsibilities of a county commissioner. But that may not be a problem for someone whose self-professed hobby is “problem-solving”; the commissioner-elect spent a recent Saturday not watching a movie, or reading a book, but coding. Her website needed an upgrade now that she wasn’t a candidate, but an elected official, she explained, and, having taught herself software development when trying to launch a business post-college, she could handle the update herself.
Nor is she a political neophyte. Richardson ran campaigns for state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, and Cobb school board member Jaha Howard when he ran for state Senate several years ago.
She has a list of ideas for improving the county — 38, to be exact.
They include establishing an “economically-driven” diversity board that could invest in businesses across the county; turning county libraries into “functional economic development centers” by partnering with the Cobb Chamber of Commerce “to bring in maker spaces, whether it be a woodworking shop or a sound engineering studio or co-working spaces for small startups and nonprofits”; and taking a more “vision-driven approach” to the county budget “to see what the (return-on-investment) is on certain line items.”
Richardson said she has been meeting with county department heads over the past year, and looks forward to working with county Chairwoman-elect Lisa Cupid.
“I believe in her leadership and want to be a tool, be useful in her effort to be able to execute and lead in this county,” Richardson said.